EVENT LONDON FILM FESTIVAL VENUE LEICESTER SQUARE

The BFI 52nd London Film Festival: Halfway Point

Day 4 of the London Film Festival for me and with four films in the bag the weather is beginning to turn and everyone's looking/acting irritable. There’s been nothing I’ve hated yet, but there's only been one film, a short, that has grabbed me (more on this in a bit). Tonight’s event is a Times Gala red-carpet screening of Oliver Stone’s W. (2008, USA/Australia/Hong Kong/Switzerland/China), the sympathetic portrait of one man (the imprudent Dub-ya) and his struggle to refigure his younger self in the more “appropriate” image of his father en route to the White House and certain global humiliation. Stone is in attendance, which should be a treat, and so is that Josh Brolin fellow who may or may not take to the stage and say much.

As for this week’s films, first mention goes to Jia Zhangke’s 24 City (Ershsi Cheng Ji, 2008, China/Hong Kong/Japan) which takes as its master subject the demolition of an aeronautics plant in Chengdu (once a secret military hardware factory) and the mass redundancies to have affected its core workforce since the 1950s. There’s little mourning or nostalgia for the past (life is presented, by and large, in honest terms) and Jia interviews a few of the old workers whose identities were unceremoniously upturned by life in the factory. But Jia feels compelled to dramatise this suffering melodramatically, conjuring fictional characters who indulge in sometimes disturbing but always impassioned tales of hardship ... I’m not sure it works or serves the film’s purpose. The opening short Cry Me a River (He Shang de Aiqing, 2008, China/Spain/France) is a painful watch but excellently well-drawn: two ex-couples from university, now settled with their own “life partners” and having realised what huge disappointments they are to each other after years of living together, are reunited at a celebration party.

Less successful, the triptych Tôkyô! (2008, France/Japan/South Korea/Germany) pulls together diverse Tokyo-based stories from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho and French directors Michel Gondry and Leos Carax. Gondry’s short film “Interior Design” concerns Akira (Kase Ryo) who moves to the city with his devoted girlfriend Hiroko (Fujitani Ayako) to become a filmmaker. Despite a promising set-up the film builds towards a shoddy punchline ending that brings to mind the architecture of other omnibus films such as Creepshow (George Romero, 1982, USA). Critically, his film overlooks the thematic concerns that expectant audiences are primed for going into act two: the patriarchal division of labour, the indictment of women as burdens to hardworking men, forced servitude, etc. No such plot development here. Essentially, “Interior Design” ends at the point at which our protagonist Hiroko accepts her dehumanisation in the city of Tokyo as a natural consequence of becoming the guilty party in a relationship (her creative type boyfriend is a much harder worker); she thus turns into a wooden chair and seems to like it.
Memorable for its deliberate bleakness and fabulous caricature, the story goes that a subterranean hermit Mr Merde (Denis Lavant)—who has lived underground for some time and now has the dubious honour of literally being classed “a foreigner”—is now surfacing in central and Western Tokyo and randomly terrorising the citizenry

I thought “Shaking Tokyo” (Bong Joon-ho) was equally banal. It shifts focus from the inner-city to the confined quarters of Tokyo’s residential backstreets where the story concerns a hikikomori, a regimented recluse who hasn’t spoken to a soul in roughly a decade (Kagawa Teruyuki takes the role). Things change when the gorgeous archetype (a dreamy delivery girl played by Yù Aoi) literally falls into his arms, and he must fathom how best to deal with her. In the end, the segment is all male wish-fulfillment fantasy (I wouldn’t recommend it) and Bong should be denied basic food privileges for spinning conventional notions of romantic longing via earthquake metaphor.

The film’s conclusion, in which Kitano seems to affirm an earlier judgement that the contemporary art world is the province of charlatan dealers, devious hustlers and talentless celebrity rogues, is surprisingly affecting
Over the last couple of days, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about a grim little short by Leos Carax, the second film in the Tôkyô! omnibus, dubiously entitled “Merde”. Memorable for its deliberate bleakness and fabulous caricature, the story goes that a subterranean hermit Mr Merde (Denis Lavant)—who has lived underground for some time and who has the dubious honour of literally being classed “a foreigner”—is now surfacing in central and Western Tokyo and randomly terrorising the unsuspecting citizenry. It all feels sartorial and fun and amusing until one afternoon the depth to which the man’s malevolence runs becomes alarmingly clear, and from that point the film shifts into uncomfortable almost Lynchian territory. Curiously enough Carax’s film receives no mention in Tony Rayns’ write-up for the L.F.F. programme; this perhaps isn’t an accidental omission, for the less we know the more affecting the experience, the more disturbing its socio-political statement. I thought the film was fantastic (needless to say Lavant is remarkable in the role) and based on feedback from other film festivals audiences seem to enjoy it above and beyond the Gondry and Bong shorts too; on a personal note, it deserves special scholarly attention in contemporary Asian film studies.

One of the most disappointing entries in last year’s line-up of Japanese films was Kitano Takeshi’s Glory to the Filmmaker! (Kantoku - Banzai!, 2007, Japan), an audacious and surreal film (quintessentially “Beat” in terms of comic tone and irony) though ultimately one whopper of an indulgent mess. This year’s entry Achilles and the Tortoise (Akiresu to kame, 2008, Japan) feels like a return to a more contemplative style of filmmaking for the director—the obviously less action-packed general tone recalling Kikujiro (Kikujirô no natsu, 1999, Japan) and Hana-bi (aka., Fireworks, 1997, Japan)—particularly as its central themes (of parental absence and mortality) are more adult, yet it plays to convention in a manner that echoes the far more commercially successful Zatôichi (2003, Japan). The film is a touching and curiously sincere portrait of the mythical Artist, a boy that has not quite matured: outstandingly impressionable, awkward, lacking responsibility, hurting his loved ones to the real point of extreme absurdity. Its conclusion, in which Kitano seems to affirm an earlier judgement that the contemporary art world is the province of charlatan dealers, devious hustlers and talentless celebrity rogues is surprisingly affecting. But goodness knows where Kitano will turn next: a Buddhist parable concerning his dead Sonatine (1993) character perhaps?
23 October, 2008

0 comments:

Post a Comment